Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines – COVID-19 D.C. Update – September 2020 # 7

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  • The bipartisan 50-member House Problem Solvers Caucus has drafted a US$1.5 trillion plan, the “March To Common Ground”, to provide coronavirus relief in an attempt to reignite negotiations on a deal before members return to their home states for elections. The proposal faces long odds given the differences both parties have on the next package. The legislation includes a second round of stimulus checks, unemployment aid, and small business loans that they say would last through at least next spring. The group lawmakers would resume unemployment benefits at US$450 per week for the first two months, eventually increasing to US$600 as long as it doesn’t exceed the person’s previous wage. It also would provide US$500 billion for state and local governments, US$15 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, and US$400 million for election assistance. Additional provisions according to Roll Call include:
    • US$100 billion for K-12 schools, regardless of whether they're open for virtual, in-person or hybrid learning.
    • US$30 billion for higher education institutions.
    • US$15 billion for child care providers.
    • US$95 billion for a revamped small-business loan program, plus US$145 billion in unspent Paycheck Protection Program funds that would be reprogrammed, with an automatic trigger to reduce by US$60 billion if health care metrics are met.
    • US$25 billion for testing and contact tracing.
    • US$30 billion to expand telehealth services and other provider support.
    • US$45 billion in Medicare loan forgiveness for providers.
    • US$25 billion for agriculture and aquaculture producers and processors.
    • US$15 billion for the U.S. Postal Service.
    • US$12 billion for broadband hot spots in underserved communities.
    • US$10 billion to provide a 15 percent boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through July 2021 and an additional U$1 billion for an equivalent boost to the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program through March 2021.
    • US$400 million in election assistance to states.
    • Forbearance for federal student loans through the end of 2020.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Tuesday during a caucus call that the House would stay in session until the long-stalled coronavirus stimulus bill can be reached. “We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi told lawmakers. POLITICO later reported that the Speaker clarified that the House would return to Washington if a deal were agreed upon, but other news outlets continue to report that the Speaker plans to stay in session. "We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi said on CNBC Tuesday. Pelosi said she is still looking to negotiate, but did not indicate that talks have been renewed. Pelosi also did not directly address the Problem Solvers bill; instead, she defended her decision to continue to stick with a bill providing US$2.2 trillion and not going lower.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Tuesday called on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to resign, citing Azar’s alleged acquiescence to White House political inference with the Department’s anti-COVID work. Schumer said Azar “has allowed perhaps the most important federal agency right now to become subservient to the president's daily whims.” Schumer’s comments follow multiple controversies at HHS, including reports that HHS official Michael Caputo accused government scientists of plotting against Trump and told Trump supporters to arm themselves for post-election political violence. HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley called Schumer’s comments “uninformed” and an “attempt to mislead” the public.
  • Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) on Monday said that the White House has blocked presidential adviser and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro from testifying about his involvement in negotiating a now-canceled ventilator contract. Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, believes the U.S. overpaid by more than US$500 million on the US$646.7 million contract with Philips Respironics. Krishnamoorthi responded to the White House’s refusal with a documents request instead.
  • The Federal Reserve this week will hold its last policymaking meeting before the elections as the central bank’s calls for further coronavirus relief fail to move Congress. The Fed is not expected to make major policy changes this week after already implementing measures, including near-zero interest rates and trillions of dollars in emergency loans. Instead, Fed officials including Chairman Jerome Powell have called for further fiscal stimulus, with Powell telling NPR “Certainly I think more will be needed.” Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said this month’s inadequate fiscal relief “presents a very significant downside risk to the economy today.”
  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said on Tuesday that she will quarantine after being exposed to an individual with COVID-19. “While the test result has not come back yet, I will be following CDC recommendations and the Capitol Attending Physician’s advice and will be quarantining for 14 days as a precaution,” Capito said in a statement.

In the News

  • A new report published 14 September by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paints a bleak picture of the far-ranging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the progress in global development that has been made in the last 25 years has been wiped out in the last 25 weeks. The 2020 Goalkeepers report says the backsliding includes the percentage of children around the world getting essential vaccinations, food insecurity on the rise, and a sharp increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
  • Covid-19 has killed at least 121 people under 21 years old across the U.S., nearly two-thirds of whom were Black and Hispanic people, a new study published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The researchers, which include several CDC personnel and officials from nearly 30 state health departments, said the study underscores the risk COVID-19 presents to young people, even though young people typically don’t become as sick as older coronavirus patients. They added that the data should be continually monitored as schools and child-care centers reopen.
  • Most of Delta Air Lines’ roughly 75,000 workers won’t face job cuts thanks to voluntary leaves of absence, buyouts, and shorter schedules, the airline said Tuesday. Airlines have pleaded with employees to take leave or buyouts to lower labor bills as the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on travel demand dampens revenue. About a fifth of Delta’s staff, which numbered more than 90,000 at the start of the year, took buyouts or early retirement packages. More than 40,000 have opted for temporary leaves of absence since the pandemic began, and work schedules for most employees have been cut by 25 percent.
  • Holiday travel reservations are significantly down from prior years, although an uptick in late bookings during the coronavirus pandemic may boost bookings later. According to Guesty, reservations for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve this year are off by 16, 35, and 33 percent, respectively, compared with a year ago. However, in August Guesty found a 3 percent uptick in reservations made within one day of travel and a 5 percent jump in same-day reservations.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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